During his speech to the US President , the Pope started from recalling his own roots. ”As the son of an emigrant family, I am happy to be a guest of this nation, that was built mostly thanks to families like this. I am opening with joy these days of encounter and dialogue, during which I hope to have the opportunity to hear the many dreams and hopes of the American people. Along with their fellow-countrymen – he stated – the American Catholics are busy building a truly tolerant and inclusive society, and to defend the rights of the individuals, as well as those of the community, and to keep away any kind of unfair discrimination. He stressed the importance of ”building a fair and wisely structured society”, and of respecting ”the inherent right of religious freedom”.
Everyone is called to watch over it – added the Pontiff – as good citizens, so as to preserve and defend this freedom from anything, that could put it to risk or compromise it. The Bishop of Rome, mentioning Obama’s commitment to this regard, reminded that climate change is ”a problem, that cannot not be put off any longer nor left to future generations”. History has reserved us a place in a moment which is crucial to the care of our ”shared home”. Besides, according to the Pope, it is necessary to face changes that will guarantee a “sustainable and integral development” and that “demand serious and responsible awareness from us, as far as the kind of world we leave not only to our children, but also to the millions of people subjected by a system that has neglected them”. “Our shared home – he added – was a part of this group of excluded people who cry towards heaven and who today knock heavily on the doors of our homes, cities, society. Taking on the wise words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we were negligent as far as certain commitments are concerned, and now the time has come to honor them.”
Peter’s successor noted that “humanity still has the ability to work together in order to build shared home” by committing themselves to ensuring an “aware and responsible care”. Finally, he stressed that “recent efforts to reconcile relationships, that were broken and for the opening of new paths for cooperation within the human family represent positive steps forward on the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom”. “I hope that all men and women of good will, who are a part of this great and prosperous nation – he concluded – will support the efforts of the international community to protect the weakest in our world and to promote models that are integral and inclusive of development, so that our brothers and sisters can know the blessing of peace and prosperity everywhere because this is what God desires for all of his children”.
Before giving his speech, Bergoglio had been greeted by the master of the house. “Our garden is not usually so crowded – began the president of US in his welcoming speech – but the importance and the spirit of today’s meeting are only a small reflection of the deep devotion of the about 70 million American Catholics. And it reflects the way in which his message of love and hope inspired so many people in this country and in the world. In the name of the American people, it is my great honor and privilege to welcome you in the United States of America”. Today – continued Obama – it is “a day of many first times. It is the first Pope from the Americas, and his first visit to the United States and it is also the first Pontiff to share an encyclical on Twitter”.
The Holy Father’s visit, according to Obama, shows that all Americans “from all kinds of environments and of any faith, give value to the role that the Church plays in strengthening America”. Obama then talked about the important function played by the Catholics. “I have seen myself, how every day – he pointed out – those communities give food to the hungry, look after the sick, host the homeless, instruct children and fortify the faith that offers support to so many people”. Those organizations, he continued, “serve the poor, assist prisoners, build schools and homes, lead hospitals and orphanages. They give voice and hope to people who are trying to break the chains of violence and oppression” and this is true in America as it is in the “remote villages of Kenya and the trafficked streets of Buenos Aires”.
America’s excitement for Bergoglio’s arrival, stressed Obama, must be attributed not only “to his role of Pope but to his unique personal qualities. In his humbleness and simplicity, as well as in the kindness of his words and in the generosity of his spirit, we see a living example of the teachings of Jesus, a leader whose moral authority comes not only from the words, but also from his actions”.
The Pope asked “all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics, to put the last ones at the center of our concerns. We recalled that in the eyes of God our size as individuals, and as a society, is not determined by welfare, power or celebrity, but by the degree to which we follow the Scriptures, helping the poor and the marginalized, taking a stand for justice and against inequality, and guaranteeing that every human being has the possibility to live in dignity, because we are all made in the image of God. He reminds us that the most powerful of Lord’s messages is mercy. It means to accept the stranger with empathy and generosity, from the refugee who escapes from civil war to the immigrant who leaves his home in search of a better life. It means to show compassion and love for the marginalized, for those who have suffered, for those who seek redemption”.
Of great importance is the passage about Cuba, pronounced at the end of the apostolic visit to the Caribbean island. “We are grateful – he said – for his invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people, that offers the promise of better relations between our countries, a greater cooperation in our hemisphere and a better life for the Cubans”. Obama thanked the Pope as well “for his passionate voice against the conflicts that devastate the lives of so many men, women, and children, and for his invitation to all nations to resist the call of war and to resolve disputes through diplomacy”.
Bergoglio – reiterated the American president – “remembers that people are truly free only when they can freely practice their faith. Here in the United States, we take care of religious freedom, but in the world, at the moment, there are people, including Christians, who are being killed because of their faith”. Faculties that do not exist in some regions of the world where “believers are not allowed to gather in their places of prayer, churches are being destroyed, the faithful imprisoned. Therefore – we are at your side in the defense of religious freedom and of inter-religious dialogue, knowing that people, everywhere, must be able to profess their faith without fear and without intimidation”.
Finally a passage about the commitment of the Pontiff for the protection of the environment. “Pope Francis reminds us that it is our sacred obligation to protect our planet, the magnificent gift that has made us God. We support his appeal to all the world leaders to help the communities that are more vulnerable to climate change and unite in order to preserve our precious world for future generations.”
In cooperation with Stefano Cicchini